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Glasspockets Find: New E-Book About Making Sense of Data
January 14, 2014

(Rebecca Herman is special projects associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Herman-150Markets For Good’s e-book Selected Readings: Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sector, is a compendium of blog posts from the past 15 months that hits on many hot topics—including transparency. Although that seems like a relatively short time, it’s useful to look back on this period and see how the conversation on data continues to evolve quickly and ripple through various sectors of civil society.

Transparency and openness are recurring themes in several thought-provoking blog posts featured in the e-book, including Laura Quinn’s In Search of Better Data About Nonprofits’ Programs, first published in April 2013. In her Author Update for the post, Quinn writes:

“Since the publication of this blog post, the problem of blaming nonprofits for lack of transparency has only gotten worse, with a substantial amount of conversation about “effective” and “data-based” philanthropy. It’s hard to argue the premise that donors and foundations should try to give money to those nonprofits most likely to be able to use it effectively. The weak link in this chain of logic is the assumption that the burden should be on the nonprofits to show their own effectiveness.”

Markets for Good-eBook-Cover-230Issues related to transparency and NGOs are raised in Anne Hand’s Notes from the Field: Mexico and Social Sector Data, and, in the post 3 Reasons Open Data Will Change the World: A Real-Time View, Ben Hecht argues there is the great potential in data-driven government initiatives, which are based on a commitment to greater transparency and open data in the civil sector.

One of the most in-depth looks at timely issues in transparency is Put Your Data Where Your Mouth Is, in which David Bank, Co-Founder and Editor of ImpactIQ and ImpactSpace, writes about his quest to cover impact investing: “If it was hard for me to track “impact” deals, how could impact investors themselves?” Bank also notes:

“Transparency is needed across the capital spectrum, but one area is particularly ripe for openness: the new class of start-up entrepreneurs mixing technology, emerging markets, and new financing mechanisms to disrupt business as usual in food, water, health care, education, energy, and even sanitation.”

In Divining a Vision for Markets for Good, Arthur “Buzz” Schmidt specifically addresses the need for greater foundation transparency. in the section on “An Alternative Vision for the Philanthropy Ecosystem”:

“We have not succeeded to date because we have not accounted for the complexities and contrary economies of philanthropy as it exists today. We are attempting to interject creative online methods into a philanthropy ecosystem that does not yet value, promote, and reinforce the importance of information, consistency, or effectiveness.”

And he goes on to envision a possible future that raises our hopes: “Institutional donors will be accountable, consistent, transparent, intentional, and demanding in their philanthropy. Communities will articulate common objectives and track collective progress. Nonprofits will report consistently about their own objectives and institutional progress. Resources will be directed to organizations that best meet society’s evolving needs. Superior social and environmental progress will result and our liberal democracy will be strengthened.”

MarketsForGoodlogoMarkets for Good’s e-book reminded me that transparency, data and openness are issues that are of central concern to an incredibly broad range of nonprofits, government, social entrepreneurs, investors and international organizations—and we can learn more by widening our gaze beyond the philanthropic sector. The e-book offers practical views of tackling particular data issues, but it also provides an informative sampling of how different groups within the social sector are thinking about data and transparency today.

-- Rebecca Herman

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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